Freiburg - FC Schalke 04 moved a step closer to guaranteeing themselves a place in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League next season with a 2-0 victory in a breathless match away to SC Freiburg.
Teenager Kaan Ayhan netted his first Bundesliga goal to break the deadlock in the first half, before Klaas-Jan Huntelaar wrapped up the points after the break with a deflected long-range effort.
With the prospect of sealing third place - and the last automatic Champions League berth - Schalke began energetically and attacked their hosts right from the start. Freiburg were uncomfortable with the relentless high pressing of Huntelaar, Max Meyer and Julian Draxler, whose efforts soon paid off, even if the goal did come from an unlikely source: 19-year-old left-back Kaan Ayhan.
The defender rode a challenge on the edge of the left-hand edge of the Freiburg area and curled a right-footed effort around keeper Oliver Baumann and in off the post. Freiburg are not a side to let their heads hang, however, and battled their way back into the game, going close with chances from Admir Mehmedi and Jonathan Schmid.
Schalke on top
It was Schalke who went closest to adding to their lead, though, with Huntelaar crashing an outstanding left-footed half-volley off the bar before heading just wide. Nevertheless, the guests could count themselves fortunate to go into the break with their noses in front after Mehmedi spurned a glorious opportunity to equalise, only to fire wide when free in front of goal from 15 yards.
Perhaps aware that fourth-placed Bayer 04 Leverkusen were comfortably beating Eintracht Frankfurt, Schalke began furiously immediately after the restart and peppered Baumann’s goal. The custodian was forced to make a superb save from a Leon Goretzka header before Huntelaar twice went close as the Royal Blues set up camp in Freiburg’s half.
Huntelaar on target
The Dutchman did eventually get his name on the scoresheet as Schalke’s pressure took its toll, albeit with a little help. Huntelaar was allowed to shoot from 25 yards and although his left-footed effort was weak, it took a huge deflection to leave Baumann wrong-footed. The visitors were forced to reshuffle shortly afterwards when Felipe Santana was sent off for a second bookable offence and the change meant Schalke could no longer play their expansive attacking tactics.
Freiburg did have the ball in Schalke’s net following a well-worked free-kick but their hopes of a fightback were soon dashed when Julian Schuster's goal was ruled out for offside. Substitute Chinedu Obasi should have added a late third for Schalke only to miss from close range, but it had no bearing on the overall result on what was a satisfactory afternoon's work for the visitors.
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